Microsoft Plans MSDN Revamp

Microsoft is finally tuning up its Microsoft Developer Network site and promises to resolve long-running frustrations developers have encountered working with it.

Don't look now, but Microsoft is finally working to tune up its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) site. The effort promises to resolve long-running frustrations developers have encountered working with the online library and resource.

Redmond Developer News has learned that Microsoft has assembled a task force to determine how it can improve MSDN, a site that aggregates much of Microsoft's technical content for developers. The task force, which spent much of this week in New York interviewing developers, made a stop last night at the monthly meeting of the NYC .NET Developer's Group held in Microsoft's New York offices. The task force revealed its effort to a group of more than 100 people attending the meeting.

"There's great content there. It's very thorough, but from a practical standpoint, it doesn't really meet people's needs," said Brian Hsi, a product manager involved in the effort, who made his pitch at the meeting. "It's kind of static. It's really a library at the end of the day."

Hsi underscored that Microsoft was only at the information-gathering stage and offered no timetable for when changes will be implemented and how extensive the MSDN revamp may be. But he did say that his team intends to interview developers throughout the United States to determine what they like and dislike about the site.

One thing Hsi did indicate is that MSDN will evolve from the more "static" resource that it now is to a more community-focused effort.

"Historically, we've been pretty much a content-driven site," Hsi said. "We're really talking about moving toward broader involvement from community members. It's not so much that there's people that offer content, it's [that] everyone's in it together."

Search and Complain
Indeed, Hsi was rather blunt in his critique of MSDN. "It's often tough to find out if something is accurate or relevant," he told the group. "People just want answers."

The biggest criticism of MSDN is the difficulty of finding content spread across the various Microsoft services, including CodePlex, CodeGallery, Channel 9 and the various forums, libraries and blogs. It's a situation that motivated several developers at the meeting to express frustration with the challenge of finding information on MSDN.

"It is kind of ironic that the internal search never finds anything so I have to go to Google to find things," said James Curran, a senior programmer for, in an interview following the meeting. "I am really looking forward to an improvement because there's a lot of good information that's tough to find."

But even those using Google and other search engines can't find terms that use, say, the "#" sign or a URL.

Another attendee lamented that when Microsoft launched MSDN in 1994, the site promised that if a developer didn't receive an answer to a question posted on a newsgroup or forum within three days, Microsoft would guarantee an answer. "We can't get that anymore," the attendee said.

Hsi acknowledged that search has been a key bugaboo with MSDN, saying the company has conducted some pilots using its own Live Search interface to MSDN by having editors tie together content from CodePlex and other sites within MSDN.

"There's definitely improvements along the way," Hsi said. "I know it's not perfect, I am not here to tell you that it is, but we're making some progress."

The moves come about a year after Microsoft introduced improvements to navigation on MSDN's TechNet. Among the key improvements was the implementation of tabbed, contextual navigation. By clicking on a tab, a user is directed to a site focused on a specific technology or product, a process that was designed to minimize the amount of clicking and result in fewer redundant links.

MSDN also has more consistent navigation, such as "download" tabs in the same location, according to MSDN.

Editor's note: Redmond Developer News invites readers to send their comments to us. With your permission, we may republish them and pass them along to Hsi.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.